It’s been two decades now that DeSoto County realtor Wayne Bartley has taken some time to play some golf with a purpose. Or at least get about 140 of his golfing buddies to come out and play for a purpose.

Bartley, father of a son with autism now age 23, has made it a mission to back intervention programs and provide support for children on the autistic spectrum. His “Give A Kid A Chance To Be A Kid” annual fundraiser at the Club at North Creek in Southaven continues each year, he said, because the need is still there. Tuesday marked its 20th anniversary.  

“When we started this thing off the first time we had about 35 kids that would come out and have lunch with the golfers and we probably had about a couple hundred kids in the program,” Bartley said. “Now we probably have about 400-500 kids that are involved.”

Bartley said the tournament, postponed to Tuesday because of a rain threat for its original date of April 25, will raise about $15,000 for programs geared toward autism in North Mississippi. That makes about $375,000 that has been raised over the course of the event’s existence. He added that most golfers who couldn’t play Tuesday because of the date change still insisted he keep their entry fee.  

“It’s a big number and I wish it was bigger, but it’s a great event,” Bartley said.

The golfers were given lunch ahead of heading out to challenge the North Creek course in the tournament, aware their sponsorship and entry fee was going to help youngsters with autism. Those with autism are part of a growing population across the county and the nation, with now one in 68 youngsters being born with some form of it, one in 42 boys, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The cause of it is unknown and there is no cure for autism.

Bartley said the money goes to help make a difference in lives.  

“They (the golfers) have seen what’s been done with the money and they know the need,” he explained. “We have fun, we feed them good food and have great prizes, but ultimately the money they spend is investing back into families that really need support.”

Bartley said a new program of iPads given to special needs teachers for use in the classroom has become a big benefit, impacting youngsters for years beyond a one-time usage.  

“We’ll give out anywhere between 20-25 iPads this year in DeSoto County and North Mississippi,” said Bartley. “It’s a great program because with this technology we can now take an iPad and instead of giving it to one child, we can give it to a teacher that can give back to 20 children. We’ve put about 150 iPads into classrooms, so consider the difference that can make for a lot of these families’ lives.”

Bartley estimated about 400 families will be impacted by the money raised Tuesday, which may not seem like much. But, he also used a little story to relate how something done is better than nothing done.  

“I remember about the boy who’s walking on the shore with a million starfish, chucking them back into the ocean,” Bartley said. “Somebody asked him, ‘You’re not making a difference because there’s millions of them.’ The boy picks one up, looks at it, throws it in and said, ‘Yeah, but I made a difference for that one.’ Everybody here today indirectly or directly is making a difference in a kid’s life. That’s what it is all about."

Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.  

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